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Changing genetics involves time and money

“You need to set goals prior to making any changes,” says Randie Culbertson, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University. “Talk to people who have done it before and learn from their experience.”

In the beef industry, she says, most genetic changes are made through new bulls or replacement heifers. Culbertson estimates roughly 10% of the beef industry uses artificial insemination.

“Some use the technology more than others,” she says. “In many cases, turning the bull out with the herd is the best way to make genetic changes.”

Culbertson says while A.I. is an effective technology, it’s not for everyone. She says more labor is involved, and that needs to be worked into the cost of using it.

“You have these huge operations out west with thousands of acres, and A.I. is just not going to work very well there,” Culbertson says. “With smaller operations, it may be more cost-effective.”

She says many seedstock producers use A.I., while it is used less frequently with commercial producers.

“A lot of it is going to depend on how you market those calves,” Culbertson says. “Getting those top-end calves is going to cost you money, so you need to make sure you’re getting a good return on your investment.”

Culbertson says many cattle producers are developing their breeding programs at this time of year, with May and June popular months for those with spring-calving herds.

“Take a look at what’s out there and what you might want to bring in,” she says. “Do your homework and make a good decision.”

A.I. is used almost exclusively in the hog industry to make genetic changes, says Lee Johnston, Extension swine specialist with the University of Minnesota.

Many producers also bring in replacement gilts when they want to upgrade their genetics.

“They will bring in gilts of a variety of ages and get them into the isolation process so they will be ready to go,” he says. “You have to manage the biosecurity risk of bringing live animals onto the farm, so some extra labor will be involved there.”

Johnston says producers looking to make rapid changes may opt to use A.I. rather than bringing in new gilts.

Producers will need to carefully manage expenses.

“When it comes to out-of-pocket expenses, A.I. is less expensive. We can’t forget about the cost of keeping track of those gilts,” Johnston says.

Like the beef industry, there is a good deal of data available, allowing producers to make well-researched decisions.

“There is a lot of data out there on these boars,” Johnston says.

He says once you’ve done your research, move forward with your plan.

“There are a lot of management decisions to be made,” Johnston says. “You have to consider biosecurity and the labor involved with managing gilts. Do your research and make a good decision.”

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